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Tennessee Titans 2017 Draft Preview by Position

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The latest in a series of occasional posts about the Tennessee Titans, posted here because I no longer maintain a separate Titans blog. “What I’ve been reading” coming after the end of April.

One of the staples of my pre-draft coverage for years has been a draft preview by position, including probabilities of selecting a player at each position. Especially because this will be my only pre-draft post, I will also note players the Titans have been linked to with a reported visit or private workout (via Titans Report compilation).

Mandatory mention for this post: the Titans currently hold 8 picks in the 2016 NFL draft. To be as realistic as possible, I wanted the sum of the draft probabilities at each position to add up to 7.0. If the probability at any particular position looks too high to you, well, it probably looks too high to me as well. But to get the total to 7.0, the probabilities all look too high. I know, 7.0 is still short of 8, but (a) it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Titans end up making seven selections by making a trade or two, and (b) the sixth and seventh rounds are prime spots for value- and UDFA-related picks where positional need matters much less, so they’re ripe for doubling up on a need position (like Kalan Reed last year) or picking a non-need slot (the David Howard pick a few years ago). If things go true to form, the Titans will hit all but one of the positions I have them rated as highly likely to draft while hitting one of the positions I think it much less likely they will draft.

I should note that, as much as I can, this post attempts to describe what the Titans might think based on how I think the Titans might think. Jon Robinson and Mike Mularkey will be setting the direction and making the decisions for the team, so I try to think how they would think. What I would do if I ran the Titans is (a) in some cases quite different and (b) completely irrelevant in terms of predicting what the Titans will do.

Need at position: Low
Analysis: Marcus Mariota is the starter. Matt Cassel is the trusted veteran backup. Alex Tanney is the third quarterback. What you may think of Cassel as a backup is irrelevant; the Titans seem to value him a lot, so he will be there. Though Tanney was on the roster Week 1 last year, I do not believe the Titans will look to keep a third quarterback. I will interpret any early quarterback pick as a sign that Mariota’s injury may be much more severe than we believe it to be. Possible late, but I doubt it.
Draft probability: 10%
Linked players: Josh Dobbs

Running Back
Need at position: Moderate-low
Analysis: The Titans did not tender RFA RB3 Antonio Andrews, and did not add a veteran, so they may have a need at the position. But last year they kept DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry and cut Dexter McCluster, and Andrews had almost no role on offense (9 snaps). That surprised me because Mike Mularkey had had a pass game back/satellite player on his team. They could look to add one of those, a more all-around back, or a grinder. Or just roll with Murray, Henry, and maybe dive into the UDFA market and perhaps not even keep a third RB. I think they’ll draft a back, but I do not see it as a priority.
Draft probability: 60%
Linked players: Kareem Hunt, Marlon Mack

Wide Receiver
Need at position: High
Analysis: The Titans’ top four at wide receiver is currently Rishard Matthews, Tajae Sharpe, and Harry Douglas. The more perspicacious of you will note that list has three names on it. Yes, the Titans do currently have more than three receivers on the roster, but that’s the way I think they think of it. I went in depth on the Titans and their potential needs at receiver in February. Since then, they lost who I thought they would lose and have not added anybody, so what I wrote there is still largely true. The Titans could, and probably will, look to draft two receivers: an X to replace Sharpe, probably early, and a slot-type, probably in the middle rounds. I am not as convinced as other people seem to be that plus speed will be a priority, which in practical terms means I think Mike Williams at #5 is much more likely than other people think.
Draft probability: 100% of one, 60% of a second
Linked players: Kendrick Bourne, B.J. Bunn, Corey Davis, Chris Godwin, Zay Jones, John Ross, Da’Morea Stringfellow, Noel Thomas, Mike Williams, DeAngelo Yancey

Tight End
Need at position: High
Analysis: I also covered tight ends in that February post, including why I did not believe (and still do not believe) the Titans are likely to be interested in spending a high pick on either O.J. Howard or David Njoku. But they did lose Anthony Fasano, so the primary blocking tight end role is still open. Phillip Supernaw could help fill that void, as could playing an extra offensive lineman like Dennis Kelly or Tim Lelito. With this year regarded as one of the best tight end classes in history, however, the Titans are nearly certain to draft a tight end. I expect a competent in-line blocker in the middle rounds.
Draft probability: 99%
Linked players: O.J. Howard, David Njoku, Adam Shaheen, Jonnu Smith

Offensive Tackle
Need at position: Low
Analysis: Set at starter with two young players in Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin. Set at backup with Dennis Kelly. Mularkey has carried nine offensive linemen before, and I feel like developmental tackles the way other people feel about developmental quarterbacks, so it could happen. But probably not, not with this tackle class, and not with seemingly everybody else looking for a starter.
Draft probability: 10%
Linked players: Corey Levin, Brad Seaton, Darrell Williams

Offensive Guard/Center
Need at position: Moderate
Analysis: The Titans are set at center with Ben Jones and at gameday swing backup with Lelito. Quinton Spain should hold down one guard spot. Josh Kline returns at the other one, and Sebastian Tretola could challenge him. But Kline was a waiver wire pickup, and Tretola is a sixth-round pick who played 3 snaps. We do not really know just how much the Titans like either player. And they’re keeping 5 interior players, likely, so they could add competition for those two. I’m not sure how their need for an immediate starter fits with the weakness of this line class, though. If Forrest Lamp at #18 is the only hope for a 2017 upgrade on Kline/Tretola barring The Magical Trade-Back Fairy giving them a second-round pick, then they may not draft one at all.
Draft probability: 50%
Linked players: Jordan Morgan, Chase Roullier

Defensive Line
Need at position: Low
Analysis: The Titans regularly dress five defensive linemen. They have on their roster Jurrell Casey (paid a lot, very good), DaQuan Jones (played a lot in 2016, generally well regarded for what he is), Sylvester Williams (whom they signed to a bigger contract than I thought he’d get in free agency), Karl Klug (re-signed early in free agency notwithstanding an injury that may leave him on the shelf until training camp), and Austin Johnson (second-round pick last year). That does not include Angelo Blackson (fourth-round pick a couple years ago), or Anquan Woods or Mehdi Abdesmad (UDFA they liked last year, who spent most of the season on the practice squad and were signed late on the roster). I do not believe the Titans will draft a defensive lineman at all unless they see him as an exceptional value relative to the draft slot and a clear upgrade on a player they have.
Draft probability: 10%
Linked players: Jonathan Allen, Davion Belk, Rod Henderson, Grover Stewart

Outside Linebacker
Need at position: Moderate-low?
Analysis: They’re set at starter with Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan. The questions I have are behind them. To create a decent rotation, you need backups to play 550 spots. Pencil in Aaron Wallace for 10 snaps a game, so are they comfortable counting on Kevin Dodd for 400 snaps, more if Morgan or Orakpo is on the shelf again? I would not be, but nor would I have taken Dodd anywhere close to where the Titans did. Their interest in Erik Walden suggests they may not be absolutely comfortable, especially given Mularkey mentioned at the pre-draft presser Dodd was still not completely healthy, and I still believe this is a position they could look to add a player, even with a high pick. As I’ve considered things more, though, I’ve come to see this as a less of a priority and more of a like to draft, if the right player is there at the right value.
Draft probability: 60%
Linked players: Derek Barnett, Keionta Davis (DL?), Charles Harris, Steven Rhodes

Inside Linebacker
Need at position: Moderate-high
Analysis: Pretty simple here. Sean Spence played a lot in coverage situations for the Titans in 2016. The Titans did not re-sign Sean Spence. There is no replacement for him on the roster. The Titans are therefore very likely interested in adding a cover linebacker in the draft, and potentially interested in adding a three-down linebacker if there is one available they like. I can’t see it happening at #5, but a possibility for any subsequent pick. But they could probably get by with Avery Williamson, Wesley Woodyard, and some Big Nickel and dime if they had to.
Draft probability: 82%
Linked players: Jordan Evans, Reuben Foster, Haason Reddick, Jaylon Reeves-Maybin, Duke Riley

Need at position: High
Analysis: The Titans are drafting at least one cornerback, and could draft more than one like they did last year. The biggest question is, just how high? I keep going back to that Dick LeBeau has been a defensive coordinator or head coach in the NFL more than 25 years, and his teams have never, ever, not once spent a first-round pick on a cornerback, and I’ll keep repeating that until I see somebody I haven’t talked to mention that. I cannot completely rule it out in the first round, after the Titans played so much man coverage last year, but with the depth of the class I see it as likely a third-round priority.
Draft probability: 99%
Linked players: Jamal Agnew, Chidobe Awuzie, Gareon Conley, Jeremy Cutrer, Corn Elder, Randall Goforth, Adoree Jackson, Marshon Lattimore, Obi Melifonwu (S?), Cam Sutton

Need at position: Moderate-low?
Analysis: At safety, the Titans have (a) Kevin Byard, about whom they have said nothing but good things since drafting him in the third round last year, (b) Johnathan Cyprien, whom they gave a big free agent contract to this offseason, (c) Da’Norris Searcy, a natural SS who played some single high last year and therefore could easily fill in as either Byard or Cyprien’s backup, and (d) Brynden Trawick, a special teams player whose work on defense GM Jon Robinson praised after signing him this offseason. Against this, you have (1) months of Jamal Adams being mocked to the Titans at #5, both before and after Cyprien’s signing, and (2) Mike Mularkey’s comment in March about the Titans liking their safety rotation. It’s a good safety class, so it could happen. But I don’t see it as nearly as likely or as much of a priority for them as most draftniks and fans seem to think it is.
Draft probability: 60%
Linked players: Jamal Adams (maybe), Josh Jones, Leon McQuay

Some Macro-Level Thoughts
I inadvertently gave my best summary of the Titans’ approach to the draft last year in a single tweet noting their 2016 needs. My top need was OT; their first pick was OT. My second need was OLB; their second pick was OLB. By third need was DL; their third pick was DL. I grouped needs 4-6 together (S, RB, CB); those ended up being their 5th, 4th, and 7th picks. WR would have been my seventh need, had I listed one; it was their sixth pick. Based on one year of data, the Titans appear to be an extremely needs-focused drafting team. Applying this same rubric to 2017, where’s what it suggests:

A. WR will be a first-round pick;
B. CB is a strong contender for a first-round pick; and
C. TE is a bit tricky-a strong need, but their need is for a blocker rather than a receiver or all-around player, which means it is does not need to be a first-round priority.

Whether they take G, ILB, S, RB, OLB, or second WR, and in what order, will likely be a function of board and value rather than based on need priority. This is not to say the Titans cannot prioritize different things than I think they prioritize and select a player I do not see as a priority need with a high pick, like a Jonathan Allen or Jamal Adams at #5. As noted above, I am trying to think like I think J-Rob and Mularkey think, but I only know or can guess so much about what they believe, and they may believe things I do not know, think, or guess they believe. Any pick at #5 other than a WR will tell us something, but my guess is the real answers we get from Tennessee start at #18.

Written by Tom Gower

April 25, 2017 at 14:30

Posted in Tennessee Titans

Some Thoughts on the Titans, Wide Receivers, and Tight Ends

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The latest in a series of occasional posts about the Tennessee Titans. I’ll probably have another Titans post in the next couple weeks looking at the roster heading into free agency, and will definitely have a big pre-draft post along the lines of last year’s.

One of the things you see a fair amount in mock drafts around the interwebz is a tight end, whether O.J. Howard or David Njoku, projected to the Tennessee Titans with the 18th pick. The connection is a natural one. The Titans give a lot of snaps to tight ends. The Titans only have one veteran tight end under contract for 2017. The Titans need weapons in the passing game. The wide receivers they might consider are generally off the board, so project them a tight end. Easy and obvious.

Now, it’s easy to criticize mock drafts, even one with natural connections like that one. I criticize mock drafts all the time, of course, but mostly reserve those thoughts to my head or to occasional mutterings when I’m alone. I wouldn’t be writing this post just to criticize mock drafts or even Howard and/or Njoku as players (for one, I’ve barely started watching draft prospects seriously). Especially in February, I use mock drafts as information on where players might be valued and/or evaluated and to build my own list of players to watch. But those projections of a tight end to the Tennessee Titans do give me an excuse to write about something I’ve been thinking about in general, namely the need to analyze potential Titans tight ends and wide receivers through the filter of roles.

This is something general manager Jon Robinson has expressly stated, that players are evaluated in terms of how they fit roles. While under Ruston Webster player evaluations might have been done free form in a relative vacuum, Robinson emphasized that draft prospects will be fit into the roster and compared to players on it. This means it’s important to look at what roles on the team might be open, and how draft prospects might fit or not fit into particular roles, including potentially at the expense of players currently on the roster.

We only have one draft with him in charge to consider in thinking about how Robinson does things, but fortunately Mike Mularkey brings with him a long history in the NFL in being in charge of an offense and/or a team. We can use that to learn some things, or at least makes some educated guesses.

One thing that’s clear if you look at Mularkey’s history is he tends to concentrate who he targets in the passing game. Among wide receivers and tight ends, the top three targets tend to have a lot more catches, while the fourth, fifth, or later options don’t have many. Look at the 2016 Titans-Rishard Matthews had 108 targets and 65 catches, Delanie Walker 102/65, Tajae Sharpe 83/41, and then Kendall Wright’s down at 42/29. The last offense Mularkey ran, the 2012 Jaguars: 132/64, 105/55, 77/52, then 43/24. The 2009 Falcons were probably the purest example of this-Roddy White was at 165/85, Tony Gonzalez 134/83, Michael Jenkins at 90/50, and then Marty Booker down at 31/16. One of those top three players may or may not be a tight end. Gonzalez obviously was targeted a lot, as was Walker, but Justin Peelle had 23 targets as the Falcons’ lead receiving tight end in Mularkey’s first year there.

Let’s apply this prism to the 2017 Titans. Matthews, Sharpe, and Walker are all back, and could fill the role of top three receivers. Now, it seems likely the Titans would be happy to have Matthews and Walker be focal points of the passing offense again this coming season. That leaves one role potentially up for grabs. The simple question to be asked of any wide receiver the Titans sign or draft is, will that WR send Tajae Sharpe to the bench? If the answer is no, he’s crossed off the list as a potential starter. Whether he could be function in a reserve role is a different question, but I belay that for now.

Now, these mock picks of Howard or Njoku, where they fit? The Titans obviously have a big need at tight end. There are two questions that will dictate whether the Titans potentially have interest in a first-round TE. First, do they like their offense better with that TE than they do their offense with Sharpe? Mularkey has never, ever, not once in his career featured two tight ends in the passing game. In the 12 seasons Mike Mularkey has spent as a team’s offensive coordinator or head coach, the most targets his TE2 has ever had in a season has been 19. (I’m not counting Anthony Fasano’s 42 targets in 2015 because that was Whisenhunt’s offense they installed leading into the season.)

Now, this presents to Mularkey a bit of a tactical problem. Walker’s a solid move tight end, but not somebody they want to put on the line of scrimmage in 21 or maybe even 12 personnel and run the ball with. One of the things that would make Howard and/or Njoku appealing to the Titans is if he could do that and present more of a pass threat in that role than Fasano (now a free agent) or Phillip Supernaw did this past season. But if you’re looking at that player as a Sharpe replacement, then what you’re looking for is a player who can line up on the outside and win 1v1 matchups against cornerbacks on intermediate routes (y’know, that thing Titans receivers had so many problems with this season). There are players who can do one, and there are players who can do the other, but hardly anybody this side of Rob Gronkowski can do both as frequently as he would have to do to fit both needs. So I’m kind of skeptical any TE in this draft fits that first potential justification for spending a first-round pick on a tight end.

Ok, fine, the second potential justification for spending a first-round pick on a tight end. Are the Titans ready to move on from Delanie Walker in the near future? This is almost always an awkward question, but it must be asked. Walker turns 33 before the start of this coming season, and his contract expires after 2018 (when he’s due a $5.4 million base salary). If the Titans are ready to move on from Walker, they could select Howard or Njoku to be their TE2 this season, filling a Fasano-type role with more receiving upside, with the expectation that he’ll supplant Walker as their primary receiving TE and one of their big three receiving options in 2018, or at latest 2019 (similar to Derrick Henry’s likely career trajectory). If this is the answer, though, the pick of a tight end would be in addition to, not instead of, a receiver to supplant Sharpe.

Let’s try putting this into a different format. Here’s what things looked like in 2016:

Starting outside WR, frequently targeted: Tajae Sharpe
Starting outside WR, frequently targeted: Rishard Matthews
Slot WR, occasionally targeted: Kendall Wright
WR4, slot or outside, infrequently targeted, didn’t play ST: Harry Douglas
Marginal WR: Marc Mariani (returner), Tre McBride

Move TE, frequently targeted: Delanie Walker
Inline TE, infrequently targeted: Anthony Fasano
TE3, blocker/special teams, infrequently targeted: Phillip Supernaw
TE4, inactive: Jace Amaro

Now, within the context of what I wrote above, here are your questions as we project those roles going forward to 2017:

1. Do you want Tajae Sharpe to be an 800+-snap player? If yes, fine. If not, then the Titans should look at free agency (not many great options, likely) or the draft (maybe depending on what you think of Mike Williams, Corey Davis, John Ross, etc.) for a player who can be better than Sharpe at this job. If you do this, then Sharpe could potentially fill one of the spots lower on the depth chart.

2. Kendall Wright is a free agent and, in my opinion, quite unlikely to return. This isn’t a big role, but is there a player on the roster you want to fill that slot WR role, even if it may just be a limited one?

3. Harry Douglas is due $3.75 million in the final year of his deal. (a) Do you want him to fill the Wright role, or you can find a better player for that? (b) In his inside-outside flexibility and your degree of trust in him, plus the absence of any cap pressure, such that you’re willing to pay him that much to again do what he did in 2016, or can you find a different, maybe better and/or cheaper player, preferably one who contributes on special teams for that role?

4. Marc Mariani is a free agent. Who’s going to return punts and kicks? I’m skeptical this player was on the 2016 roster. Obviously, this player doesn’t have to be a wide receiver and is quite unlikely to be a tight end.

5. Anthony Fasano is a free agent. Who’s going to fill that role? You could re-sign Fasano to do it, but as an anti-fan of old tight ends, I’d prefer a younger option if there’s a good one available. This player is unlikely to have a big passing game role in 2017, but could have one in future seasons.

6. Phillip Supernaw is likewise a free agent. This could be a good role for a young player with the goal of putting him in Fasano’s role in 2018, or just a marginal veteran.

7. Is there a path from Amaro’s current position to any potential role other than move TE? I really don’t see one, and haven’t since the Titans claimed him off waivers. But if the TE2 and TE3 aren’t credible potential Walker injury replacements, as they weren’t in 2016, Amaro could maintain his 53/healthy inactive status for another season.

Possible answers to those questions likely to come when free agency begins next month, and we should know a lot more about what the Titans are actually likely to do come draft night by the time I do the big draft preview post in mid- to late-April.

UPDATE (2017-02-20 2255): Had some “this season” ambiguity, using it to refer to alternatively 2016 or 2017 at different points, so changed that and some other style stuff that was annoying me.

Written by Tom Gower

February 15, 2017 at 22:17

Posted in Tennessee Titans

Why I Don’t like a Titans Offense DVOA Thinks Is Okay

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The third in an irregular series of posts about the Tennessee Titans. Perma-disclaimer: I write for Football Outsiders, whose statistics, rate-stat DVOA and counting-stat DYAR, will be referenced throughout this article. Some numbers may be through Sunday’s games; opponent adjustments from the Texans’ play will have slightly affected some numbers. 

There has been a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth coming from Tennessee-following quarters, including from yours truly, about the quality of the Titans’ offense this season. It came Week 1 after the loss to Minnesota and has continued after most weeks. The wins against the Dolphins and Browns quieted the cries somewhat, but they rose again after Sunday’s loss to the Colts.

DVOA does not agree. DVOA actually rates the Titans’ offense fairly highly-currently 11th at 4.2%, right behind San Diego and Green Bay (9/10, 4.7%) and ahead of Detroit (12th, 4.2%), where Matt Stafford has gotten articles declaring him an MVP candidate. If they keep that up for the entire season, 4.2% would be their best offensive DVOA since 2009 (also 4.2%), and an 11th-place ranking would be their best since the halcyon days of Steve McNair and 2003’s third-place ranking. And it’s not just the DeMarco Murray-led run game that has been driving the offense. DVOA currently rates the pass game as pretty average, 15th at 16.0%, while Mariota is rated at almost exactly league average (-0.7%; 0% is league average).

This presents to us a puzzle. DVOA thinks the Titans’ offense is actually pretty average. The emanations from Titansland, including from me, say it is not average. I like DVOA quite a bit and believe it can be used to tell us interesting and powerful things. Why am I disagreeing with it?

1. The Titans are a consistent but not high-yardage offense.

DVOA places a great value on consistent success. This makes a great deal of sense. And this year’s Titans offense ranks highly by success rate-third at 48.4%, behind only Dallas and New Orleans, and well ahead of the league average of 43.3%.

At the same time, the Titans rank just 14th in yards per play, so their consistent successes are mostly only minor successes. My guess is a statistic like Bill Connelly’s IsoPPP for NCAA stats that measures explosiveness would rate the Titans quite poorly. Unfortunately, I’m not aware of an NFL statistic that captures quite that. (They’re 14th in FO’s open field yards, which measures rushing yards over 10, and in a 14-way tie for 13th with 3 passes of 40+ yards, for what those are worth.)

2. The Titans are good at moving the ball without getting first downs before third down.

Thing I believe is probably “true” but haven’t done the research to convince you of: first down is the most important down by a significant margin. Distance matters a fair amount for third down conversions, and the best way to get a first down is to not get to third down in the first place. (Along similar lines, I prefer the quarterback with more second quarter wins to the one with more fourth quarter wins.)

One thing the non-explosive Titans do not do is go from first down to first down. They had zero first down conversions in the first 58 minutes of Sunday’s game against the Colts, and that’s been a problem that’s plagued them for most of the season. In the first three quarters of games, the Titans get a first down on just 13.1% of their first down plays. League average is 21.1%. The Packers are second-worst at 16.2%. The Falcons lead the league at 29.8%. Yes, Atlanta is more than twice as likely as Tennessee to get a first down in first down in the first 45 minutes of a game. 31.7% of such Titans plays are successful but do not produce a first down. That’s the highest total in the league, and well above the league average of 21.9%.

The situation on second down may be nearly as bad, and is even worse relative to the league average. The Titans are successful but do not gain a first down on 21.1% of second down plays in the first three quarters. League average is 14.0%, and the Saints are second at 18.1%.  Add them together, and the Titans have such plays on 27.0% of their first and second downs, compared to a league average of 18.5%, and well ahead of the second-place Saints at 23.5%.

Hey, what about the fourth quarter?

The fourth quarter is different. The basics are straightforward: in the first three quarters, 37% of successful first down pass attempts by the Titans result in a first down. In the fourth quarter, 85% do. My guess is this is likely related to the number of passes that come in two minute situations, and you’d see an even clearer trend if I looked to just those at the end of each half. But this post is enough work without me bothering to prove or disprove that.

3. Marcus Mariota has not been good outside of the red zone.

General DVOA note: player stats cannot be separated from the context of the team and particularly the offense. By “Marcus Mariota” in the above, I really mean “Marcus Mariota, throwing to Tajae Sharpe, Delanie Walker, and company, with Mike Mularkey and Terry Robiskie designing the offense and calling the plays, and with DeMarco Murray running the ball, while playing behind the Taylor Lewan-…-Jack Conklin offensive line, paired with Dick LeBeau running a defense with Jurrell Casey and company” but it’s too long to write that out every time.

Mariota did quite well in the red zone last year, posting a DVOA of 49.4%. This year, he has been even better, ranking second in DYAR (behind Drew Brees) and DVOA (behind only Tom Brady among qualifiers). But DVOA rates Mariota as just an average passer overall, even with that fine red zone DVOA. Why?

Simple: Mariota, as good as he’s been in the red zone, has not been good outside the red zone, which makes up 80% of the length of the field. From his goalline to the plus 20, he has posted a DVOA of -13.5%, which ranks 25th among the 32 qualifying quarterbacks. For comparison’s sake, that puts him just ahead of Case Keenum and just behind Ryan Six-picks-trick.

Being good in the red zone is great, but being good in the red zone is not something seems to be particularly consistent.

So what if the Titans aren’t quite as good in the red zone?

I think it’s useful to look at this through the prism of drive stats. The Titans currently rank 16th with 1.92 points per possession while scoring 6.0 points per red zone possession. If they instead scored the league average of 4.9 points per red zone possession, they would score about 0.3 fewer points per possession, which would be around 24th in the league.

4. Marcus Mariota has not been good in the under center pass game.

One of the big questions with Mariota coming out of Oregon was how he would adapt to taking many of his snaps from under center instead of from the shotgun. The answer we got in 2015 was “quite well.” He was actually better under center (1.6% passing DVOA) than he was in shotgun (-18.4%), and that was true under both Ken Whisenhunt and Mike Mularkey (cited numbers season-long). This year, that is not the case.

Among the 32 quarterbacks with 105 passes (the current DVOA QB leaderboard table cutoff), Mariota ranks 30th in both passing DYAR (-23) and DVOA (-16.8%) from under center. That’s … not so good. One of the players behind him is Cam Newton, and Mike Shula has had Cam attempt just 8.2% of his passes from under center this year, while Marcus has attempted 24.1% of his from under center. (The other is Brock Osweiler, whom you may have heard got $72 million over four years and is not playing well.)

5. Marcus Mariota has not been good on first downs.

Mariota ranks last in the league in both DYAR and DVOA (among 32 qualifiers) in first down passing DVOA. That is true even though he has a decent success rate. Turnovers seem like an obvious culprit, and they’re indeed part of the story. But only part of it. Without turnovers, his rank by DVOA jumps from 32nd all the way to 29th (among qualifiers). That’s still not good.

6. The Titans have been significantly better on third down then on first or second downs.

As much as I denigrate third down, third down performance is extremely important. And good news:  led by Mariota, the Titans have been very good on third downs. He ranks fourth in DVOA (among qualifiers) and fifth in DYAR, and the Titans as a whole rank third in offensive DVOA on third down.

The bad news comes in two parts. First, notwithstanding their pretty good success rates on first and second downs, the Titans are not good on third downs because they’re ending up in particularly favorable third down situations. They are in fact almost dead average when it comes to third down situations-basically, a team that was precisely league average would have had two more third-and-mediums (4-6 yards to go) and one less third-and-short (1-3 yards) and one less third-and-long (7+ yards). In terms of average to-go distance, the Titans are pretty much right at league average (7.1 v. average 7.0).

Second, third down performance, especially third-and-long performance, tends to be pretty variable. The 2016 Tennessee Titans are a great example of this. They had 18 third-and-longs against the Vikings, Browns, and Colts, and got 10 conversions, an outstanding performance. They had 18 third-and-longs against the Lions, Raiders, and Dolphins, and got exactly 0 conversions, a quite lousy performance. That’s enough to rank quite highly for the season (currently third), but not enough to make me feel better about the offense.

The Titans currently have the second-biggest difference between their third down DVOA and their offensive DVOA on first and second downs, behind only New England’s unwanted experiment into the effect of quarterback quality on team performance. That gap is more likely to close over the course of the season than it is to increase or stay the same.

Hey, what about the run game?

The run game has been fine. I don’t quibble with DVOA putting the run game 9th. That’s probably about where I would have put it in general, though I admittedly haven’t really studied teams around the league enough to say that with confidence. The puzzle I was trying to solve was about the pass game, and why DVOA and I thought (and still think) different things about it. Also, passing is generally more productive and more variable than running, so more worth looking into even if things were equal, which they weren’t.

So, the Titans are running two offenses?

Eh, not necessarily that much more than most NFL teams do. The league as a whole runs a pass-oriented offense out of shotgun that is somewhat more efficient overall than the run-oriented offense they run from under center.

What about opposing defenses?

DYAR is adjusted for quality of opposing defense; that’s what the “D” stands for, so I haven’t touched on this subject yet.

Even though they opened with the Vikings, FO’s #2-ranked defense, the Titans have faced the league’s easiest schedule of opposing defenses thus far, including the 32nd-ranked Lions, 31st-ranked Colts, 30th-ranked Browns, and 28th-ranked Raiders. The Titans’ offense, both the run game and the pass game, has been worse than it “looks” so far, and is likely to decline going forward as the Titans face more accomplished defenses.

I believe this is particularly a problem for the Titans, as their lack of explosiveness and playmakers means their offense works best against the worst defenses, which tend to have more execution issues.


DVOA likes consistently successful offenses, which the Titans are. But the Titans have too many short gains. They therefore must consistently and repeatedly execute to move the ball down the field to score points. To do this, they need to be great in high-leverage situations, particularly third downs and the red zone. They have been so far, which is a big reason DVOA likes them so much more than I do. Performance in high leverage situations tends to regress, so the Titans are not likely to be as good in those areas moving forward, plus they have not been as good as they look because of an easy schedule. They are therefore likely to score fewer points going forward, unless they start playing better.

Written by Tom Gower

October 26, 2016 at 13:44

Posted in Tennessee Titans

Tennessee Titans 2016 Roster Prediction As Training Camp Opens

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The second in an irregular series of posts about the Tennessee Titans.

For the past eleven seasons, around the start of training camp I have predicted which players the Tennessee Titans would keep when they cut down the roster to 53. Quitting regular team blogging in March was not sufficient to keep me away from that task, so here goes nothing.

The intro, largely cribbed from last year’s attempt at the task:

Each season, the day the Tennessee Titans players report to training camp, I attempt to predict which players they will keep after the cutdown all the way to 53. Some years this goes kind of okay,  while in other years I end up on quixotic quests and stick on them long after it becomes obvious they are indeed quixotic quests. Most years, I’m happy to get 48 of the 53 right at this stage of the game, as the inevitable injuries, surprises, and attempts to be clever that don’t work out happen.

Last year, I got 44 of the 53 players who would be on the roster Week 1. Subsequent personnel moves explained some of those misses, as did not getting the shape of the roster right (though I still maintain keeping 4 WR, 5 TE, and 8 DL was insane and should not have been predicted (or done) by anybody).

To guide me in this exercise, it’s useful to take a look at what the Titans looked like Week 1 of last year in terms of number of players at each position:

QB: 3
RB/FB: 5
TE: 5
WR: 4
OL: 8
DL: 8
LB: 8
DB: 9
ST: 3


But that was with Ken Whisenhunt running the offense and Ray Horton (still) running the defense. There’s no guarantee a roster led by Mike Mularkey and Dick LeBeau will look the same. As I mentioned last year, LeBeau has tended to keep more defensive backs than Horton had. Mularkey has his own roster trends that have affected my judgment (the Titans are probably likelier to keep 5 WR than you might think, though I’ll get into that below).

With a new general manager, new head coach, and new defensive coordinator, this year I am probably more likely to be wrong on which specific players the Titans value. I also expect there to be several additions to the roster, to fill some obvious (and maybe not as obvious) currently unfilled needs. I’d be perfectly happy to get 45 players this year.

With that in mind, here’s my 53:

QB (2): Matt Cassel, Marcus Mariota
Analysis: Chalk, chalk. Whatever qualms you may have about Cassel as a backup quarterback, he’s the veteran in camp. It doesn’t make sense to keep a third quarterback.

RB/FB (5): Antonio Andrews, Jalston Fowler (FB), Derrick Henry, Dexter McCluster, DeMarco Murray
Analysis: Four easy names (Fowler, Henry, McCluster, Murray), then the question becomes if they keep a fifth and who it would be. Bishop Sankey would make sense if they want a passing game back, since he filled that role in McCluster’s absence last year. But Murray’s a three-down back and the Titans have praised Henry’s work there. David Cobb would make sense if they wanted a lead back type. But they went out and acquired Murray and Henry this offseason to fill that job. Andrews offers the best mix of versatility in both categories and plays special teams, making him the favorite for the fifth back in my eyes.

WR (5): Dorial Green-Beckham, Andre Johnson, Rishard Matthews, Tajae Sharpe, Kendall Wright.
Analysis: Anyone outside, or maybe even inside, St. Thomas Sports Park who’s absolutely confident in how the Titans will handle their receivers this season is probably nuts. I’d have to write the full positional analysis to get into all the details, but here’s the basic breakdown:

Reliable but can’t separate: Harry Douglas, Johnson
Known unreliables: Green-Beckham, Justin Hunter, Wright
Offseason acquisitions: Matthews, Sharpe
Likely roster longshots, must beat out other players in camp: Everybody else

I’ve tried parsing this different ways, trying to think of the 46-man active roster, inside, outside, whatever have you, and have made no significant progress on how this is likely to go. A fifth player who’s up on gameday will likely have to play special teams. I don’t know who, aside from maybe Tre McBride (probably the 8th guy), does.

My initial draft of this post had Douglas as the token veteran on the team; when news of the Johnson signing broke 15 minutes before it was scheduled, it was pretty easy for me to make a one-for-one substitution. I think Johnson is mostly done and cannot separate, but Douglas can’t separate either and Johnson is more of an outside receiver. The slot is settled with Wright and Sharpe, and ceteris paribus outside over more of a slot type is a preference the Titans should have had.

TE (4): Anthony Fasano, Craig Stevens, Phillip Supernaw, Delanie Walker
Analysis: Three chalk names, and Supernaw gets one of the (RB5, WR6, TE4, OL9) roster spots. Special teams matters, and they’ve consistently privileged him.

OL (8): Jack Conklin, Ben Jones, Taylor Lewan, Will Poehls, Jeremiah Poutasi, Brian Schwenke, Quinton Spain, Chance Warmack
Analysis: Two areas here, and both have major question marks. At tackle, Lewan and Conklin are set at starter, but who backs them up? Poehls gets my nod here, based on the current roster and his experience, but (a) they could prefer one of the UDFA tackles like Nick Ritcher, (b) they could go with a veteran not on the roster right now for the backup OT spot, and/or (c) Mularkey has kept 9 OL before so with youth plus Lewan’s injury history, it could be Poehls/Ritcher AND a veteran.

Interior offensive line: who and how many do they keep? LG winner, Jones, Warmack, and swing gameday backup are locks. LG winner is penciled in as Spain. The swing gameday backup must be able to play center, so I’m giving that job to Schwenke (over Andy Gallik). I don’t think it makes sense to keep three backup interior OL, and Poutasi’s pedigree, plus experience playing tackle (it was insane to ask him to play RT day one as young as he was) gives him the clear edge over Sebastian Tretola.

I’d be surprised if I don’t get at least one name wrong here.

DL (7): Angelo Blackson, Jurrell Casey, Austin Johnson, DaQuan Jones, Karl Klug, Ropati Pitoitua, Al Woods
Analysis: One of the positions I feel worst about. Blackson, Casey, Johnson, Jones, and Woods are locks. LeBeau hasn’t traditionally placed much value on a 3-tech, so Klug may not be nearly as much of a lock as you think he is. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them keep Pitoitua over him, and I almost did that here. I didn’t keep any UDFAs, but maybe Antwaun Woods has a shot. N.B. LeBeau from 2005-14 kept only 6 DL 7 of 10 seasons, so any body elsewhere could easily come from here.

LB (9): Kevin Dodd, Derrick Morgan, Deiontrez Mount, Brian Orakpo, Nate Palmer, Sean Spence, Aaron Wallace, Avery Williamson, Wesley Woodyard
Analysis: I feel pretty good about seven names here, and Palmer and Wallace get the last two spots. In his recent linebackers article, Jim Wyatt mentioned Palmer’s ability to play inside and out. That could help keep him up on gameday and helped convince me to give him the ILB4 spot where I’d had Justin Staples as a placeholder. Wallace has some athleticism and seems like a good candidate for LeBeau’s defensive academy.

DB (10): Antwon Blake, Kevin Byard, Perrish Cox, Rashad Johnson, Brice McCain, Jason McCourty, Da’Norris Searcy, LeShaun Sims, Daimion Stafford, Blidi Wreh-Wilson
Analysis: I feel pretty good about seven names here-the four safeties in Byard, Johnson, Searcy, and Stafford-and the top three corners (Cox, McCain, McCourty). The other three are just guesses and should not be privileged. Kalan Reed over Blake, or Sims, or Wreh-Wilson? Sure. Instead of six corners and four safeties, a fifth safety like Josh Aubrey, Marqueston Huff, or Curtis Riley? Absolutely a possibility. Cody Riggs at corner? Eh, he may be limited to the slot, and I can’t see him higher than third there with Cox and McCain on the roster. Am I overrating Antwon Blake’s edge because of his scheme familiarity? I’m fine there, because I think other people are underrating that.

If I get two of the three non-locks right, I’m happy.

ST (3): Beau Brinkley, Brett Kern, Ryan Succop
Analysis: Chalk, chalk, chalk. The interesting job is kick returner (McCluster returns punts).

On my roster, not on Paul Kuharsky’s: RB Antonio Andrews, DL Ropati Pitoitua, WR Andre Johnson, OL Will Poehls, OL Jeremiah Poutasi, TE Phillip Supernaw, LB Aaron Wallace, DB Blidi Wreh-Wilson
On Paul’s roster, not on mine: LB Curtis Grant, WR Harry Douglas, WR Justin Hunter, OL Josue Matias, DB Kalan Reed, DB Cody Riggs, RB Bishop Sankey, OL Sebastian Tretola
Huh, that’s more than I would have guessed. But we did both keep 24 offensive players and 26 defensive ones.

Written by Tom Gower

July 29, 2016 at 12:00

Posted in Tennessee Titans

Tennessee Titans 2016 Draft Preview by Position

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GENERAL NOTE: ICYMI, I blogged at least semi-regularly about the Tennessee Titans at Total Titans starting in the 2007 season until “retiring” at the end of the 2015 League Year in March. Though I am happy not to be doing anything like regular team blogging, I still want to chime in on the Titans from time to time in ways that do not fit in 140-character soundbites. Thus, a couple times a year, I will put up posts here about the Titans. These will probably mostly be longer pieces (1000+ words). This is the first of those. 

One of the staples of my pre-draft coverage at Total Titans was a Titans draft preview by position, including probabilities of selecting a player at each position. Given that I’m only writing one pre-draft post, that seemed comprehensive and detailed enough to be the post to write. So, that it is. Since I will not be writing a separate post on players the Titans had an official visit or private workout with, I will mention the names I have seen the Titans linked to in this post. (I’m not including Senior Bowl or Combine interviews or mere pro day attendance, as I do not consider those nearly as useful signals as visits or private workouts.)

Mandatory mention for this post: the Titans currently hold 9 picks in the 2016 NFL draft. To be as realistic as possible, I wanted the sum of the draft probabilities at each position to add up to 8.0. If the probability at any particular position looks too high to you, well, it probably looks too high to me as well. But to get the total to 8.0, the probabilities all look too high. I know, 8.0 is still short of 9, but (a) it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Titans end up making eight selections, either by moving up in the first round or by trading one of their second- or third-round picks for a future pick, and (b) the sixth and seventh rounds are prime spots for value- and UDFA-related picks where positional need matters much less, so they’re ripe for doubling up on a need position (like Tre McBride last year) or picking a non-need slot (the David Howard pick a few years ago). If things to true to form, the Titans will hit all but one of the positions I have them rated as highly likely to draft while hitting one of the positions I think it much less likely they will draft.

Need at position: Low
Analysis: Marcus Mariota is the starter, and will hopefully be for the next decade-plus. I’m not a huge fan of Matt Cassel as the veteran backup, but an upgrade at veteran backup is something the Titans will not find in the draft (and apparently weren’t interested in in free agency, given they signed Cassel quickly). The Titans won’t want to make a roster spot for a third quarterback.
Draft probability: 1%
Linked players: Kevin Hogan

Running Back
Need at position: Low to moderate
Analysis: From one point of view, the Titans already have a fully loaded backfield for 2016 and don’t need a running back. DeMarco Murray will be the bellcow and play on passing downs, Dexter McCluster is the backup passing game back, David Cobb the backup run game back, and Antonio Andrews can fill either role while also playing teams. On the other hand, Murray may be mostly washed up and you could upgrade the other players in that group with the right player even in the later rounds. But if the right guy isn’t there, they won’t draft a back.
Draft probability: 30%
Linked players: Kenneth Dixon, Keenan Reynolds

Wide Receiver
Need at position: Moderate
Analysis: The Titans have the receivers they need to line up and play in 2016. As I noted before my retirement, Mike Mularkey offenses generally have not featured many pass catchers, and between Dorial Green-Beckham, Kendall Wright, Rishard Matthews, and depth parts, the Titans do not absolutely have to take a wide receiver. But Wright is a free agent after this year, they may view Matthews as more of a role receiver, Green-Beckham is a huge unknown long-term, etc., so the Titans could see this as a significant need for 2017 and beyond. Pre-draft smoke, emanating Jon Robinson, Mike Keith, and Jim Wyatt, has led me to revise my estimate upward significantly. I doubt it happens in the first round, but it probably does in the second or third.
Draft probability: 90%
Linked players: Leonte Carroo, Jared Dangerfield, Braxton Miller, Michael Thomas

Tight End
Need at position: Moderate
Analysis: Like wide receiver, not a significant 2016 need, but a need nonetheless because Anthony Fasano, Craig Stevens, and Delanie Walker will all be 32 years old when the regular season begins. This probability would be higher if the tight end class was better regarded.
Draft probability: 60%
Linked players: Stephen Anderson, Austin Hooper, Nick Vannett

Offensive Tackle
Need at position: High
Analysis: Taylor Lewan is locked in as the starter at one tackle position. Byron Bell, who returned on a one-year deal of the sort a non-premium backup would draw in a league in desperate need of quality offensive tackle play, is currently penciled in as the other. Will Poehls, who has spent two seasons on the practice squad, is currently the top backup. I may currently be fourth on the Titans’ depth chart at offensive tackle. The need to line up and play in 2016, plus the lack of quality options available in the free agent market, tells me offensive tackle is the overwhelming favorite for the Titans’ first selection on Thursday, and it would not be a surprise at all to me if the Titans come out of the draft with two offensive tackles.
Draft probability: 99% of one, 50% of a second
Linked players: Caleb Benenoch (OG?), Shon Coleman, Jack Conklin, Clay DeBord, Taylor Decker, German Ifedi (OG?), Alex Lewis, Jason Spriggs, Ronnie Stanley, Zach Sterup, Laremy Tunsil

Offensive Guard/Center
Need at position: Moderate-low
Analysis: Ben Jones is the center. Chance Warmack is the right guard. Between Jeremiah Poutasi, Quinton Spain, and probably Bell (assuming an early OT pick), the Titans can find a workable solution at left guard. A good solution at left guard would be nice, as would a developmental center, or more protection against Warmack leaving after 2016. But with all the answers and potential answers here and the needs elsewhere, this is an area I don’t think the Titans end up addressing.
Draft probability: 40%
Linked players: G Joe Dahl (OT?)

Defensive Line
Need at position: Moderate-high
Analysis: The Titans have lost two players (Sammie Hill and Mike Martin) and have not added any. One of the six that remains (Ropati Pitoitua) barely played last year. One is really good (Jurrell Casey), the rest of the group is mostly undistinguished. Defensive line is a strength of the draft, an area Robinson has suggested multiple times could be addressed, and the Titans have been linked to many defensive linemen. I don’t see it in the first round, but probably in the second round.
Draft probability: 95%
Linked players: DeForest Buckner, Jonathan Bullard, Kenny Clark, Joel Heath, D.J. Reader, Lawrence Thomas, Adolphus Washington, Jonathan Woodard

Outside Linebacker
Need at position: High
Analysis: Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo are quality starters. At least one of them has missed significant time in three of the past four seasons. The Titans’ defense collapsed when Morgan went out last year. The Titans have not done anything yet to improve their depth at OLB. To not improve their depth at OLB would be (a) Ruston Webster-like malign neglect, (b) a demonstration of incredible faith in Dick LeBeau’s powers of behind-the-scenes development, or (c) both (a) and (b). The Titans have been linked to multiple potential OLB in the pre-draft process. Probably not in the first round, but a good bet in the second or third rounds.
Draft probability: 85%
Linked players: Joey Bosa, Kamalei Correa, Shaq Lawson, Yannick Ngakoue, Emmanuel Ogbah

Inside Linebacker
Need at position: Moderate
Analysis: Wesley Woodyard is in the last year of his deal. Sean Spence is signed to a one-year deal. Avery Williamson isn’t a star. Nobody else is more than a backup and special teams player. It’s not an acute need, but it is a need. Injury wild card Myles Jack might be too tempting to pass up in the first, but otherwise more likely an option in the third round or later.
Draft probability: 80%
Linked players: Jatavis Brown, Deion Jones, Darron Lee, Antonio Morrison

Need at position: Moderate-high?
Analysis: In terms of being able to line up and play, the Titans are in better shape at corner than they’ve been since at least 2013. Between Perrish Cox, Brice McCain, and Jason McCourty, they have three veteran corners, two of whom can play in the slot. Antwon Blake has scheme and LeBeau-specific experience. Blidi Wreh-Wilson has some NFL experience. LeBeau may be high on Cody Riggs. On the other hand, Cox and McCain may be best as just slot players, McCourty is a bit of a question mark after missing most of last year with injuries, and depth is a major question mark (true at corner for basically every team). I see corner as a “like to draft” position; The Reporters Who Cover the Titans see it as a priority (Paul Kuharsky saying I was underrating CB as a 2016 need; John Glennon Tennessean article expecting a CB draft pick in first/second round). I’d frankly be shocked if the Titans took a corner in the first round, but who knows.
Draft probability: 80%
Linked players: Mackensie Alexander, Eli Apple, Kendall Fuller, Xavien Howard, Tavon Young

Need at position: Moderate-high
Analysis: It’s a good safety class. Rashad Johnson gives them cover for 2016 so a draft pick will not be required to step in immediately. Johnson is on a one-year deal. I don’t see a second starting safety on the roster for 2017 (Da’Norris Searcy is a given). I’m expecting this to happen in the second round, but if there’s a run on the position or too much value elsewhere it doesn’t have to happen.
Draft probability: 90%
Linked players: Vonn Bell, Kevin Byard, Jayron Kearse, Miles Killebrew, Keanu Neal, Tyvis Powell, Jalen Ramsey

UPDATE (2016-04-27, 1230 CT): Added CB Eli Apple and OT Taylor Decker as linked players.

Written by Tom Gower

April 26, 2016 at 18:46

Posted in Tennessee Titans

My 2014 Total Titans Archive

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As I did for 2013 and previous seasons, this is a collection of my, and only my, Total Titans posts. While Total Titans is almost all my work these days, this post also collects questions I’ve answered for other people and other Titans blogging-related work. This post will be updated periodically, a.k.a. whenever I have time and feel like it.

2014-12-29: Tennessee Titans 2014 Week 17 Snap Report
2014-12-28: Titans close 2-14 season with 27-10 loss to Colts, will pick #2
2014-12-28: Titans-Colts inactives, gameday thread
2014-12-19: Tennessee Titans 2014 Week 16 Snap Report
2014-12-19: Titans keep draft position intact by blowing lead to Jaguars, lose 21-13
2014-12-18: Titans-Jaguars inactives, gameday thread
2014-12-15: Tennessee Titans 2014 Week 15 Snap Report
2014-12-14: Jets top Titans in expected slopfest, 16-11
2014-12-14: Titans-Jets inactives, gameday thread
2014-12-08: Tennessee Titans 2014 Week 14 Snap Report
2014-12-07: Titans rolled by Giants, 36-7
2014-12-07: Titans-Giants inactives, gameday thread
2014-12-01: Tennessee Titans 2014 Week 13 Snap Report

2014-11-30: Titans rolled by Texans, 45-21
2014-11-30: Titans-Texans inactives, gameday thoughts
2014-11-29: Not a post, but I again answered questions for Steph Stradley to preview Titans-Texans
2014-11-24: Tennessee Titans 2014 Week 12 Snap Report
2014-11-23: Titans rolled by Eagles, 43-24
2014-11-23: Titans-Eagles inactives, preview notes
2014-11-21: Ray Horton vs. the Steelers
2014-11-20: Greg Cosell vs. Trent Dilfer on Zach Mettenberger
2014-11-18: Tennessee Titans 2014 Week 11 Snap Report
2014-11-18: Titans play strong for 40 minutes, lose to Steelers 27-24
2014-11-17: Titans-Steelers inactives, gameday thread
2014-11-10: Tennessee Titans 2014 Week 10 Snap Report
2014-11-09: Great first quarter, three more familiar quarters as Titans fall to Ravens 21-7
2014-11-09: Titans-Ravens inactives, preview thoughts

2014-10-31: The Titans and field position at midseason
2014-10-29: Why is the same Titans team that went 7-9 now 2-6?
2014-10-27: Tennessee Titans 2014 Week 8 Snap Report
2014-10-26: New QB, same result, as Titans fall to Texans 30-16
2014-10-26: Titans-Texans inactives, gameday thread
2014-10-24: Steph Stradley answers Total Titans’ questions about the Texans
2014-10-24: Not a post, but I answered Steph Stradley’s questions to preview Titans-Texans
2014-10-20: Tennessee Titans 2014 Week 7 Snap Report
2014-10-19: Late FG pushes Redskins past Titans, 19-17
2014-10-19: Tennessee-Washington inactives, open thread
2014-10-18: Enemy Intelligence: Washington Redskins
2014-10-13: Tennessee Titans 2014 Week 6 Snap Report
2014-10-12: Titans avoid another blown lead, edge Jaguars 16-14
2014-10-12: Titans-Jaguars inactives, gameday thread
2014-10-10: Michael Roos and Bernard Pollard are out for the year, so now what?
2014-10-08: Looking at the Titans’ fourth quarter play-calling
2014-10-06: Tennessee Titans 2014 Week 5 Snap Report
2014-10-05: Injury-riddled Titans blow 28-3 lead, lose to Browns 29-28
2014-10-05: Titans-Browns inactives, gameday thoughts
2014-10-03: Ryan Burns answers Total Titans’ questions about the Browns
2014-10-03: The Titans and third downs

2014-09-29: Tennessee Titans 2014 Week 4 Snap Report
2014-09-27: Enemy Intelligence/Previewing the Titans-Colts Matchup
2014-09-26: Nate Dunlevy answers Total Titans’ questions about the Colts
2014-09-25: Not a post, but I answered Nate Dunlevy’s questions to preview Titans-Colts
2014-09-22: Tennessee Titans 2014 Week 3 Snap Report
2014-09-21: Titans throttled by Bengals, 33-7
2014-09-21: Titans-Bengals inactives, preview notes
2014-09-15: Tennessee Titans 2014 Week 2 Snap Report
2014-09-14: Titans stifled in 26-10 loss to Cowboys
2014-09-14: Titans-Cowboys inactives, preview notes
2014-09-12: Zaviar Gooden and the loss of Zach Brown
2014-09-08: Tennessee Titans 2014 Week 1 Snap Report
2014-09-07: Titans stifle Chiefs for 26-10 win
2014-09-07: Titans-Chiefs inactives, preview notes
2014-09-05: On the Tennessee Titans’ 2014 season
2014-09-03: Tennessee Titans 53-man roster analysis

2014-08-30: Titans roster cutdown open thread-Saturday
2014-08-29: Tennessee Titans roster cutdown open thread
2014-08-28: Titans finish preseason with no apparent injuries in dull, rainy loss
2014-08-28: Tennessee Titans fourth preseason game preview notes
2014-08-28: Titans notes-third preseason game, Jurrell Casey, cuts
2014-08-26: 2014 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: S
2014-08-25: 2014 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: CB
2014-08-23: Titans control second half for 24-17 victory over Falcons
2014-08-22: 2014 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: ILB
2014-08-21: Tennessee Titans 53-man roster prediction at mid-preseason
2014-08-20: Tennessee Titans second preseason game review
2014-08-19: 2014 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: ST
2014-08-16: First team offense improved as Titans fall to Saints, 31-24
2014-08-15: Tennessee Titans second preseason game preview
2014-08-14: 2014 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: OLB
2014-08-13: 2014 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: DL
2014-08-11: Tennessee Titans first preseason game review
2014-08-09: Titans top Packers, 20-16, in preseason opener
2014-08-08: Tennessee Titans first preseason game preview
2014-08-07: 2014 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: C
2014-08-06: 2014 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: G
2014-08-05: 2014 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: OT
2014-08-04: 2014 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: TE

JULY 2014
2014-07-31: 2014 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: WR
2014-07-30: 2014 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: FB
2014-07-29: 2014 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: RB
2014-07-28: 2014 Tennessee Titans preseason positional analysis: QB
2014-07-25: 53-man roster prediction as training camp opens
2014-07-24: Ray Horton’s 2013 Browns defense: Top 10 or bottom 10?
2014-07-23: Ken Whisenhunt and fourth downs
2014-07-15: More on Al Woods
2014-07-14: More on Zach Mettenberger
2014-07-11: More on Marqueston Huff
2014-07-09: More on Avery Williamson
2014-07-03: More on DaQuan Jones
2014-07-01: More on Bishop Sankey

JUNE 2014
2014-06-20: A brief guide to Ray Horton defensive fronts
2014-06-05: Titans play-calling by down and quarterback

MAY 2014
2014-05-30: Breaking down the Titans’ 2014 UDFA signings
2014-05-15: Overviewing the Tennessee Titans’ 2014 draft
2014-05-11: Recapping the Tennessee Titans’ 2014 draft picks
2014-05-10: Titans trade up to select QB Zach Mettenberger in 6th round
2014-05-10: Titans take ILB Avery Williamson in 5th round
2014-05-10: Titans select DB Marqueston Huff with second 4th round pick
2014-05-10: Titans select DL DaQuan Jones in 4th round
2014-05-09: Titans trade back, select RB Bishop Sankey in 2nd round
2014-05-09: Taylor Lewan: View from the next day
2014-05-08: Titans select OT Taylor Lewan with 11th pick
2014-05-08: Not a post, but I appeared on the Draft Mecca hangout to discuss the Titans’ first-round pick (NSFW lang, though not from me)
2014-05-08: My second-round Titans mock
2014-05-07: Breaking down the Titans’ pre-draft visits and workouts
2014-05-06: Titans draft preview by position: Defense
2014-05-05: Titans draft preview by position: Offense
2014-05-03: Filling out the pre-draft Titans roster
2014-05-02: Titans sign WR Brian Robiskie

APRIL 2014
2014-04-29: Some thoughts on the draft
2014-04-23: Tennessee Titans 2014 schedule announced
2014-04-17: How Shaun Phillips sacked the passer in 2013
2014-04-16: Analyzing Dexter McCluster, running back
2014-04-15: How the Titans were penalized in 2013
2014-04-11: Reviewing past Tennessee Titans drafts: 2008
2014-04-10: Head coach Ken Whisenhunt’s history of drafting offense
2014-04-09: Titans 2014 preseason schedule announced
2014-04-08: Notes on the Titans
2014-04-04: Titans release Chris Johnson
2014-04-03: Titans sign G/C Eric Olsen
2014-04-02: Titans re-sign G/C Chris Spencer

MARCH 2014
2014-03-31: The Titans, value, and roster construction, revisited
2014-03-28: Site news update
2014-03-28: Titans sign OLB Shaun Phillips
2014-03-27: Implying beliefs from the Titans’ free agent activity
2014-03-20: Titans re-sign WR Marc Mariani
2014-03-19: Titans release K Rob Bironas
2014-03-19: Titans release DT Antonio Johnson
2014-03-14: Titans sign RT Michael Oher, release QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
2014-03-14: Titans sign LB Wesley Woodyard
2014-03-14: Titans ink QB Charlie Whitehurst to 2-year deal
2014-03-13: Titans add DL Al Woods
2014-03-12: Titans release RT David Stewart
2014-03-11: Titans add Dexter McCluster, re-sign Leon Washington
2014-03-11: Grading the Titans’ 2013 free agent signings
2014-03-10: Assessing the free agent OT class from a Titans perspective
2014-03-07: The holes on the Titans’ depth chart heading into free agency
2014-03-07: Titans re-sign DL Ropati Pitoitua
2014-03-06: Notes on the Titans’ 2014 cap situation and possible cuts
2014-03-04: Titans re-sign S Bernard Pollard

2014-02-28: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: ST
2014-02-27: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: S
2014-02-24: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: CB
2014-02-20: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: MLB
2014-02-19: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: OLB
2014-02-18: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: DE
2014-02-17: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: DT
2014-02-13: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: C
2014-02-12: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: G
2014-02-11: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: OT
2014-02-10: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: TE
2014-02-07: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: WR
2014-02-06: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: FB
2014-02-05: Not a post, but I answered some questions about ex-Bills players for Buffalo Wins
2014-02-04: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: RB
2014-02-03: 2014 Tennessee Titans offseason positonal analysis: QB

2014-01-30: Not a post, but I answered some questions about Jim Schwartz for Buffalo Wins
2014-01-28: Tennessee Titans pick in 2014 NFL draft
2014-01-23: The 2013 Titans: Still older on offense, still young on defense
2014-01-22: Field position and the Titans defense in 2013
2014-01-21: Titans hire Ray Horton as defensive coordinator
2014-01-20: Field position and the Titans offense in 2013
2014-01-17: Titans hire Jason Michael as offensive coordinator
2014-01-17: Parsing Ken Whisenhunt’s first answers as Titans head coach
2014-01-13: Titans hire Ken Whisenhunt as new head coach
2014-01-13: 2013 Tennessee Titans Biggest Surprise: Kendall Wright
2014-01-10: 2013 Tennessee Titans Biggest Disappointment: Jake Locker
2014-01-08: Picking a Tennessee Titans rookie of the year
2014-01-06: Moving beyond Mike Munchak
2014-01-04: Titans fire Mike Munchak
2014-01-03: 2013 Tennessee Titans Defensive MVP: Jurrell Casey
2014-01-02: 2013 Tennessee Titans Offensive MVP: Kendall Wright
2014-01-01: The Jets on Locker and Ayers

Written by Tom Gower

February 18, 2014 at 22:15

Titans 2013 Draft Recap

with one comment

I try to do a post like this one right after the draft, but better late than never. Every year, the Titans draft a bunch of players I know something between way too much and hardly anything at all about, then I write pessimistic, idiosyncratic, and snarky things about them. For an example of what this has looked like in this past, here is last year’s post. This post also serves a purpose for me, in giving me a roughly contemporaneous record of what I thought the Titans should do in the draft. What I do my eventual six-year draft recap post in 2019, I’ll be able to look at this post and the others I’ve written about the draft class and compliment myself on how much more prescient, incisive, and smarter I was than the people who are much better trained, spend a lot more time on it, and whose job actually depends on them being right. In other words, if you complain about my comments in this post being somehow deeply unfair and non-charitable, you’ve missed the entire point.

#1-10: G Chance Warmack, Alabama
And with their first pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Tennessee Titans completed their surrender. As far as surrenders go, this is much more Compiegne in 1918 than the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri in 1945. The levels of surrender were multiple. First, it was a surrendering of the idea that the Titans were at all capable of drafting and developing offensive linemen, even at the relatively easier interior line spots. This idea had been eviscerated by events, but people still clung to the idea. Second, it was a surrendering of the idea that paying running backs is enough to make a good running game, let alone an offense as a whole. Backs Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene count for a combined $14.5 million and change on the Titans’ 2013 cap. Shouldn’t that much money be able to produce a quality rushing attack without also spending a lot of money (e.g., $46.6 over 6 years on Andy Levitre) and a high draft pick? Third, it’s a surrender to the idea that the next year is all that matters. The selection of Chance Warmack was completely and utterly predictable. Ruston Webster and particularly Mike Munchak need to win in 2013 to not get fired. Right guard was the biggest hole on the roster. Warmack fills that hole well. Who cares if he’s a flippin’ right guard if he fills the biggest need on the team? Who cares if right guard is probably the third-most important position on the offensive line? Who cares if the Titans’ biggest problem may be their lack of elite defensive players? Who cares if the easiest and best place to find premium defensive players is early in the draft? Who cares if Alabama players come out of school beat to hell? Who cares about the recent track record of Alabama offensive linemen? And, of course, like Compiegne, the aftermath will be a denial that a surrender was necessary or otherwise even really took place. At least here the eventual struggle won’t end up with tens of millions of people dead. (If need be, see above re snark and unfairness.) I wanted Star Lotulelei with this pick.

#2-35: WR Justin Hunter, Tennessee
I wrote, but deleted a long rant about the Hunter pick, including particularly the trade the Titans made to move up and get him. If I were being fair, I’d say the trade conformed well to the Jimmy Johnson trade chart. Thankfully, I’m not. The trade chart, including particularly the discounting of a future pick by a full round, represents a completely unwise form of hyperbolic discounting that should be completely ignored by an intelligent front office. San Francisco made the trade because they realized the Titans were willing to value that future third-round pick as a mid-fourth-rounder. They were willing to do that because they’d done a bad job of building a team and were backed into a corner, looking at a roster and seeing a need for the guy to be their Paul Warfield on the 1972 Miami Dolphins. San Francisco did a much better job, and were able to destroy the Titans because of it. Blogfriend Chase Stuart declared the 49ers to be significant winners on this trade, and I concur 100% with his take.

As to Hunter the player, well, I made the Paul Warfield comparison for a reason, the fast receiver who gets thrown 2 play-action bombs a game. Mike Tanier has written often about how the effect of Warfield is hard for current eyes to locate in a 29-606-3 statline. As I wrote before the Titans selected Kendall Wright in the first round of last year’s draft, the Titans have a Kenny Britt dilemma. Hunter will be more useful when Britt is almost certainly plying his trade elsewhere in 2014, but I’m really looking forward to that 25-428-2 this year as A Total Gamechanger. I mean, just look at what other early second-round receivers have done lately! In a world where the Titans listen to me and don’t draft Chance Warmack, I wanted Larry Warford with this pick. With Warmack off the board, I would’ve preferred the player the 49ers ended up selecting with the 40th pick the Titans gave up, Tank Carradine, or playing cornerback roulette.

#3-70: CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, UConn
Instead, the Titans put their money on cornerback roulette with the next pick. A zillion and a half (actual number: 18) defensive backs went in the second and third rounds, and aside from Johnathan Cyprien (33rd to the Jaguars, WANT) and T.J. McDonald (71st to the Rams, DO NOT WANT), I didn’t have strong feelings about any of them aside from humbly requesting the Titans draft a player who was good in the slot if they didn’t see Alterraun Verner as their slot cornerback (which I thought then and believe even stronger now they do not). Wreh-Wilson seems like a good guy. Historically, though, the second round has been a much better spot than the third to play cornerback roulette, while Marquise Goodwin, Markus Wheaton, and Terrance Williams, fast wideouts all, went in the next 10 picks.

#3-97: LB Zaviar Gooden, Missouri
Or, “we don’t have a backup weakside linebacker and we need one.” See above re surrendering and drafting for 2013 needs, even relatively minor ones. I had mostly lost track of the draft board at this point and did not have strong feelings on whom the Titans should have selected here, aside from liking Alex Okafor enough that I would have been willing to overlook his Texas pedigree at this point in the draft. See above re need for good defensive players.

#4-107: C Brian Schwenke, California
Every year I’ve done this, I say all sorts of unkind things about most of the picks and then I say some relatively nice things about one or a few of the picks. So, nice things. This pick reminds me of how the Titans used to do things on the offensive line, before they started drafting guards in the top ten. Fernando Velasco had a decent enough year and is in place for 2013 on a restricted free agent deal, but they don’t need to commit to him. Schwenke wasn’t the first center off the board, but a lot of people liked him as the top center in the draft. May never make an All-Pro or even a Pro Bowl, but pencil him in as the starter for 2014 through 2022 or so. He was also the player I wanted the Titans to take in this spot.

#5-142: DE Lavar Edwards, LSU
I tweeted after Day Two of the draft concluded that the Titans seemed to like their defensive linemen more than I liked their defensive linemen. Well, they finally addressed the position here. I hadn’t watched Edwards particularly before the draft, but he was the third LSU defensive end off the board. Normally that would be a red flag, but Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery isn’t a bad pair to go behind. I had no issues with this pick and no particular priorities for what the Titans should do with it.

#6-202: CB Khalid Wooten, Nevada
As much as I didn’t try to distinguish the second- and third-round defensive backs, I spent even less time before the draft trying to distinguish the players who would be drafted later. I’m not sure I watched an entire Nevada game in 2012, and if I did I certainly didn’t pay enough attention to notice Wooten. I noted in last year’s post the Titans had at least in the past earned a certain degree of deference with their third day corner selections. I’m not sure that applies, especially now, but getting exercise over sixth-round picks is not my idea of a good use of time.

#7-248: S Daimion Stafford, Nebraska
The difference between the bottom of the seventh round and a priority free agent is minimal, so I’m not sure if a selection of Stafford meant the Titans liked Stafford or just thought he was a better option at safety relative to the UDFA options at safety relative to the other players at other positions relative to the UDFA options at those positions. The second half of the preceding sentence may make more sense if presented in graphical format, but it’s not important enough for me to make such a graphic. Unlike Wooten, I did notice Stafford in college and, well, he was a seventh-round pick for a reason. I thought getting a developmental strong safety type should be a priority for the Titans, but the draft sometimes falls in a way that you don’t get everything you want.

Just for the record, here were my pre-draft percentage chances of the Titans drafting a player at each position, along with the number of players the Titans actually drafted at each position:
QB: 10% (0)
RB: 40% (0)
WR: 25% (1)
TE: 20% (0)
OT: 30% (0)
OG/C: 100% for 1, 50% for 2+ (2)
DE: 85% (1)
DT: 70% (0)
LB: 80% (1)
CB: 90% (2)
S: 80% (1)
Obviously the Hunter pick threw me, as did their lack of interest in an upgrade at defensive tackle in a good year to do so. Aside from that, they picked the positions I thought they’d pick for the second year in a row.

Written by Tom Gower

July 14, 2013 at 20:41

Posted in Tennessee Titans